Apr 162012

I know that for a majority of people, Oz is the place over the rainbow that Judy Garland’s Dorothy traveled to.  But that is only a small part of the story.

The Wonderful Wizard of OzL Frank Baum is just the first of fourteen full-length Oz books that Baum wrote. I grew up on Oz books, generally getting one book each Christmas and birthday.  I loved them and read them to such an extent that when my father would read them to me, I would correct him if he changed a word.

I found out later that Oziana is a big deal, scholars and fans alike write all kinds of texts — scholarly and fan fiction alike — about this far-off land and its magical inhabitants.

The Crazy Cast of Characters

I had my favorites. Dorothy Gale of Kansas: brave, loyal and loving.  The Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodsman (the Tin Man was the Hollywood conceit), the Scarecrow: all loving friends and great companions.  But then there were all these other great characters from later books:

not to mention the  the Sawhorse, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the poetic Tottenhots:

We’re the jolly Tottenhots;
We do not like the day,
But in the night ’tis our delight
To gambol, skip and play.

“We hate the sun and from it run,
The moon is cool and clear,
So on this spot each Tottenhot
Waits for it to appear.

“We’re ev’ry one chock full of fun,
And full of mischief, too;
But if you’re gay and with us play
We’ll do no harm to you.”

“Glad to meet you, Tottenhots,” said the Scarecrow solemnly. “But you mustn’t expect us to play with you all night, for we’ve traveled all day and some of us are tired.”

“And we never gamble,” added the Patchwork Girl. “It’s against the Law.”




Apr 042012

Guitarist Extraordinaire

Django Rheinhardt

I flat-out love the music that Django created, whether in collaboration with Stéphane Grappelli, other configurations or just solo.  His music just makes me happy and the more I listen to his music, the more amazed I am by him.

The thing is, when he was about eighteen, there was a fire in the caravan he was living in and his left hand and right leg were severely burnt.  I mean SEVERELY burnt.  Yet with the two fingers he could use, he raced up and down the guitar fretboard creating wonderful lead lines to jazz standards and his own compositions.

For me, the original Quintette du Hot Club de France, created in the early ’30’s, is my favorite Django era: Django, his brother Joseph, and Roger Chaput on acoustic guitars, Louis Vola on stand-up  bass, Stéphane Grappelli on violin.  No drums but very percussive effects from Joseph and Roger’s rhythm guitars.

Because he was a gypsy (Roma) and the fact jazz was banned, his situation in France under Nazi occupation was very precarious, but he was allowed to continue to play because of a Luftwaffe official who loved jazz and admired his playing.  The strange roll of the dice — thank goodness he survived when so many Roma (and others, of course) did not.

Because my Dad played his 78’s nonstop when I was growing up, Django’s gypsy jazz was part of the soundtrack of my youth.  In college, I discovered Dan Hicks and Hot Licks (Striking it Rich was my favorite album) and not too long ago I heard the Hot Club of San Francisco playing on a rooftop garden in Oakland. Not only did they play songs popularized by Django, but they have a killer versions of  I’m Happy Just to Dance with You and And I Love Her.  The Beatles and Django — almost as good as peanut butter and chocolate!!

If you have never heard Django, give yourself a treat.  Yes, the recordings are not optimal (it was the 1930’s after all and they were recording on masters made with wax (!!).  Below are three YouTube videos that will not only give you a listen, but also let you see what Django was doing with just two fingers.

listen  Listen

 I am grateful for Django’s creative genius, the legacy of music he left, and the scions of acoustic jazz who have followed.


Apr 022012

I don’t really remember a time that baseball was not part of my life.  My mother followed the Giants and I grew up on baseball and the radio.baseball

Now, every Spring brings the promise of baseball and the sound of the radio giving me the play-by-play as I pull weeds, do the dishes and other household chores, or BBQ out in the backyard.  It’s the soundtrack to my Spring, Summer, and Fall.  I really don’t follow any other sport as a fan, or any other team than the Giants.  I don’t hate the A’s, I just don’t really care about them.  And, yes, it was very painful when the A’s were doing so well in the ’80’s and don’t even talk to me about 1989 !!  I loved the ’89 Giants but never had any illusions that they would win the World Series — but did we have to have an earthquake and get swept?

But that’s the great thing about baseball for most fans — the unending hope, the constant disappointment, the thrill of the moment.  The walk-off home-run, the strikeout with the bases loaded, the play at the plate, the steal (successful or not), the suicide squeeze, the hit-and-run.  I just love it.

And though I am a Giants fan primarily, I will watch and enjoy any baseball game.  My partner and I have gone on road trips up in the Northwest to watch Rookie League (lower even than single-A ball) teams play and have been enchanted by the small parks, the friendly feeling, and the craziness of watching semi-professional players.  The pick-off move, the throw to home — you just never know whether it will be successful or not.  And the between inning games?  Well, I saw Karl Wallenda walk across a tightrope at Candlestick Park between games in a doubleheader, but having radio-controlled car races going on while the players are doing infield practice between innings — now that’s entertainment !!

Baseball’s just the right speed for me, too.  I never find it boring, and we Giants fan have been blessed with amazing announcers both on radio and television.  How lucky am I to have had  Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons, Hank Greenwald, Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and now Dave Fleming describing the game to me. !!

Oh yes, I am grateful — Play Ball !!

Apr 012012

We’re lucky.

We can cool phones with cool apps from more than one vendor.  AND — now that AT&T no longer has the death grip on the iPhone — we also have more choices about our cell phone carriers.

More choices, more better.Android and Apple

I have a phone running the Android (Google) and my partner has as iPhone 4.  We both love our phones.

My partner doesn’t care that much about technology and wants some very easy to use.  The iPhone is perfect — it’s really well designed, intuitive for most people (not me, unfortunately), and has hundreds of cool apps.  Plus, gmail and iTunes both work seamlessly on her phone, despite the fact that each is designed by competing companies.

I’ve got a Droid Incredible 2 and love it.  I’ve been working in high tech since the early eighties and I like the idea of openness, so I am philosophically opposed to Apple’s closed systems.  My phone works just great and I think it is really cool that it there are a number of companies working together on building and improving the open standards of Android.

I’ve got tunes (doubleTwist), audiobooks (OverDrive), games, a guitar tuner and metronome.  And all of these things you can also get on an iPhone.

The point is, one is not necessarily superior to the other.  Many of the tech blogs have head-to-head comparison, but it doesn’t seem like there is a clear favorite.  I think there’s a lot to love about each one.  Play with the phones, ask your friends and then select.

Talk about a win-win.

I am grateful that competing technologies allow me to choose.

Oct 032011

CrowdIs it possible to have too many friends?  Or in the social media world have we just devalued the notion of friend?

What Is a Friend?

  • A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts
  • A person whom one knows; an acquaintance.

There are at least three levels of friendship (four if you count old friends with whom you have a past, but no real current relationship):

Best Friends

These are the folks that have know you for a long time, know your less-than-stellar qualities and still love you in spite of it all.  They are the ones you can call in the middle of the night when your car has broken down, or pick you up at the airport when your ride has fallen through. You can share feelings, doubts, problems, goals and set-backs.  They are your family, your clan, your tribe.

Close Friends

Close friends are the ones you like to be with and have fun with, but the level of intimacy stays pretty much on the surface: no real discussions of news and politics, religion/spirituality, or major life events.  You like each other but you don’t really know one another well enough to go deeper.


These are people you see regularly, you know their names and a bit about their lives, you share small talk with them.  You like them well enough, you are friendly with them, but you aren’t really interested in going beyond that level.

Dunbar’s Number

Over twenty years ago, anthropologist Robin Dunbar began studying the social groups of primates and found that as the brain got bigger, so did the size of the primate’s social group.  Using this research, he found that the optimum size for social groups among humans is around 150 people.

What is so surprising is that this number is true throughout the millenia: it’s the average size of farming villages in Neolithic times, the optimal size of modern nomadic tribes, the basic military unit size from ancient Roman times to today.  It’s not the only size, but it is generally the size of groups that have a strong incentive to remain together.

(you can read more about Dunbar’s Number in Wikipedia)

Who Do You Really Care About?Facebook Friend

So if you are like me, you thought the more the merrier when it came to making Facebook friends.  But once I became more seasoned, I realized I didn’t want to know who was doing what in Farmville or Mafia Wars.  I also could not (and really did not want to) keep up with scores of people that I would put in the “acquaintance” category.  I am happy for you, but my brain is to small to absorb all that information.

So I am cutting down on the number of my “Facebook Friends”.  It’s no reflection on you personally, but in my social universe your star is just a little too far away for me to keep track of.